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How Math Explains the World: A Guide to the Power of Numbers, from Car Repair to Modern Physics Hardcover – April 22, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian; First Edition edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061241768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061241765
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #139,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stein, a mathematics professor at California State University, explores the application of math to problem solving in the everyday, explaining tricky concepts and developing elegant algorithms for everything from scheduling auto repair to organizing a closet. He also demonstrates the power of the solution: "We advance, both as individuals and as a species, by solving problems. As a rule of thumb, the reward for solving problems increases with the difficulty." Stein blends math history and complex theories with jokes in a seamless manner while looking into everything from quantum mechanics to voting, while still realizing the limitations of his field-"without experiments and measurement these tools mathetmatics are essentially useless"-and its more whimsical possibilities: "We do not yet have the mathematical objects needed to discuss art, or beauty, or love; but that does not mean that they do not exist." Stein's work, mathematically rigorous but with minimal equations, will appeal to both casual and serious fans of math or physics, as well as those who take keen interest in problem solving.
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About the Author

James D. Stein is a professor of mathematics at California State University, Long Beach. A graduate of Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley, he lives in Redondo Beach, California.


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Customer Reviews

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Stein is bright, entertaining and electic, and just an awesome teacher.
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It's the kind of book that every topic makes you want to go and tell someone about the cool thing that you just learned.
Daniel Watkins
I enjoyed the author's humor and would recommend this entertaining book to everyone.
P. Madden

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on May 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It is made abundantly clear in this fascinating book that certain sub-disciplines in mathematics are extremely useful in describing the physical world in which we live. It is made equally clear, and admitted by the author, that many other of its sub-disciplines are (at least currently) completely useless in the sense that there are no known practical applications. The author, a mathematician, does an excellent job in providing the reader with an overview of both types of these sub-disciplines, while discussing various questions and issues in mathematics. To add a human element to these discussions, the author has peppered the text with many historical and micro-biographical snippets, as well as personal anecdotes - thus making the book all the more enjoyable. The writing style is authoritative, very friendly and generally clear; that is, some sections could have been made clearer if figures or diagrams had been included to complement the descriptions that are given, thus saving the reader a bit of re-reading and head scratching (such as in my case). The fact that many mathematical terms are used without being previously defined suggests that the reader should have some basic knowledge in math in order to better appreciate the topics being discussed. Consequently, the book would likely be most enjoyed by science and especially math buffs.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By P. Madden on August 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Who would have thought a book about math could make you chuckle and be thought provoking at the same time? Even though I'm not a math person, I had no problems following along. I enjoyed the author's humor and would recommend this entertaining book to everyone.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
As a recent physics graduate with minors in math and computer science, this book was like a brief review of the last four years of my life. For me, it was a page-turner! Stein writes with authority, sans pretentiousness. He takes you through the history of math and science in a very fun way. Easily five stars.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Its a great book; some chapters may be too hard for thse who do not have mathematic expertise. Sure I'd recommend this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, DO NOT buy this book if you think it has anything to do with telling you how to repair your car or how your calculator or DVD player works. This is MUCH more about pure math than the publisher has advertised!

The real fun and value of this book is the author's unusual command of MANY of the 6,500 fields of math listed in the MSC. Today mathematicians must specialize so much, that it is rare to find one who can simultaneously draw examples from geometry, physics, sociology and Theology! Stein is bright, entertaining and electic, and just an awesome teacher. If you teach math, this book is a MUST to show your students the numerous "angles" you can come at when looking at a problem, including a LOT of humility throughout the text about what can and can't be solved.

Stein will be discussing a reprise from Pythag to Quantum, and suddenly digress into bisecting triangles or constructing cubes with a compass, then later relate them to the provability of the existence of God! Wow. He hints at the possibility that certain arcane fields are indeed lurking to be found, as well as unseen connections between research in different areas (voting behavior vs. physics). 5 years later his predictions are exploding everywhere... from quaternions in game programming physics and computer graphics to logs and primes in quantum computing.

He mentions discrete math and many "older" techniques as now relevant to quantum physics.
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